UMass women’s basketball opens Atlantic 10 tournament with win over La Salle

By Jamie Cushman

24731581379_f0ff6e18b3_k
(Mae Drucker/Daily Collegian)

All it took was a little bit of momentum.

After it looked like the 2015-16 season was heading straight toward catastrophe midway through the conference schedule, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team lifted itself up by saving its best basketball for when it mattered most.

UMass (12-17, 6-11 Atlantic 10) beat La Salle (5-26, 2-15 A-10) in the final game of the regular season last Saturday and replicated that effort on Wednesday by winning 81-65 in the first round of the A-10 tournament.

Despite the large gap in the final score, the game was not always a foregone conclusion. The teams exchanged blows for much of the first half as neither team gained a two-possession lead until the Minutewomen went up by 29-21 with three minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Cierra Dillard was once again the Minutewomen’s leading scorer, tallying 24 points on the night on 10-of-13 shooting.

“To go 10-for-13 from the field was tremendous. The only shots she really missed were free throws,” UMass coach Sharon Dawley said in a phone interview after the game.

The Minutewomen came out of the locker room on fire, extending their lead to as many as 18 points with 5:19 remaining in the third quarter, thanks to a trio of 3-pointers and a pristine floater from freshman guard Bria Stallworth, who finished with 17 points.

The Explorers kept fighting though, cutting the deficit to as few to 55-49 after Adreana Miller opened up the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer. La Salle crawled its way back thanks to a timely run at the end of the third fueled by junior forward Micahya Owens’ eight points in the final 4:25 of the quarter.

The Minutewomen kept their foot on the gas pedal in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Explorers 26 to 19.

Aside from Dillard and Stallworth, both Rashida Timbilla (15 points) and Alyx Stiff (11) finished in double figures.

Timbilla led the Minutewomen with 14 rebounds, and doing so she reached the 1,000 rebound milestone during her time at UMass after entering Wednesday’s game with 997.

Dawley credited Timbilla’s achievement to her hard work on the boards boxing out, a part of the game that Dawley considers to be very difficult.

“I think she’s only the second player in UMass history to do it, so it’s something unheard of, not something you see every day,” Dawley said.

One of the few negatives for UMass was that junior forward Kymber Hill didn’t play due to an injury.

Hill, who averages 6.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, remains day-to-day and could still see some more playing time this season if the Minutewomen go on a run deep into the weekend.

UMass will face off against Fordham Thursday night in the second round of the A-10 tournament. The Minutewomen lost to Fordham 60-55 back on Feb. 6, a week before the Minutewomen began their six-game winning streak.

Dawley has watched her team improve since that game and believes UMass will have no trouble competing with the higher-seeded Rams.

“We played them pretty well at home, but were a different team now. We’ll make a few adjustments in the morning and go from there,” Dawley said.

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Jamie Cushman can be reached at [email protected]